Ipe Wood – Definition, Characteristics and Benefits of Ipe
(also known around the world as a Brazilian walnut) is a very strong , beautiful and gracefully-aging wood from South America that is part of a Handroanthus genus of flowering plants in the family of Bignoniaceae. With 30 closely related species of trees, Ipe wood is also known across the South America as poui, lepacho, pau d'arco, epay or ipê.
Today, this type of a tree is commonly used for ornamental landscaping and use in public spaces, where
it’s easily noticeable flowers can decorate the public
space each autumn. As for its lumber, many outside of South America have
noticed it’s positive properties and started exporting it for use in the
creation of decking, furniture and more. Stronger versions of Brazilian
walnuts (and their closely related Guaiacum wood) especially good for
creation of outside or inside deckings because of its high durability and
insect resistance. They are incredibly strong, durable, heavy and highly praised wood types that grow in American tropics.
What is Ipe Wood
Ipe wood was first classified in the 1970s, but it received modern
description in 2007 when entire Handroanthus genus become officially
accepted and certified by several government agencies (both as an effort to
better manage their growth and to put a hold on fraudulent sales of this
popular type of wood lumber). Before this, Ipe wood was regarded as the
part of Tabebuia genus.
Because of its strength and strong durability, Ipe wood is known around the
world as one of the best wood types if you want to build something that
will last a long time without the need to treat the wood with some
(such as pressure-treating).
Ipe wood can
vary in color between yellow, darker blackish and reddish brown hues
, and in some cases, it can even it can showcase contrasting darker
brown/black stripes or powdery yellow deposits within the wood structure.
Visually, it can be very similar to South American timber wood called
Cumaru, although that wood type is often a bit brighter and has
characteristic vanilla/cinnamon scent that is released during woodwork. Ipe
on other hand releases a very mild scent while being worked. As a word of
caution, there are reports that Ipe can cause mild irritation on skin, eyes
and respiratory system, and in some cases even asthma-like symptoms,
headache and vision disturbance,
Handroanthus wood has a very difficult workability rating. The wood structure is very dense and hard, with strong cutting resistance during
sawing and woodwork. During woodwork process, Ipe can be made into smooth
plains, but the appearance of tearounds is possible on interlocking areas.
Blunting effect can also be easily spotted on cutting edges. The internal
structure of Ipe wood (natural yellow deposits presents inside the wood)
can in some cases interfere with the polishing and finishing stages of
Today, the majority of ipe wood lumber production is located in Brazil.,
which is one of the reasons why many are still referring under the name
Ipe wood grows naturally in Central America, between Mexico and Argentina. It can also be found on many Caribbean islands.
Commercial pressure has pushed many wood processing businesses to create
their own growing fields of this type of wood outside of
Central America, although occurrences of such growth are still less common
today. Majority of Ipe wood exports come from Brazil, where this wood can
be found in their large rainforests.
Here are some of the basic characteristics of Ipe wood:
Tree size - 100-130 ft (30-40 m) tall
Trunk diameter - 2-4 ft (.6-1.2 m)
Janka Hardness: 3,510 lbf (15,620 N)
Average Dried Weight: 69 lbs/ft3 (1,100 kg/m3)
Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .91, 1.10
Crushing Strength: 13,600 lbf/in2 (93.8 MPa)
Modulus of Rupture: 25,660 lbf/in2 (177.0 MPa)
Elastic Modulus: 3,200,000 lbf/in2 (22.07 GPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 5.9%, Tangential: 7.2%, Volumetric: 12.4%, T/R Ratio:
Odor - Mild scent
Workability - Hard
Texture - Medium to fine
Grain - Usually straight, can be interlocked or irregular
Sustainability - Not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List
of Threatened Species.
Required growth density - Single mature tree per 300,000 to 1,000,000
square feet (3 to 10 hectares)
Drying- Easy drying, with possible mild appearance of checking, twisting or
Durability - Untreated it can last more than 25 years with no appearance of
decay, rot or termite infestation. Well-preserved outdoor flooring or other
wood objects can survive between 50 and 75 years.
Maintenance - Low
Cost - $23-$30 per square foot
Ipe wood is very commonly used in woodworking for indoor and outdoor flooring, as well for furniture
production. Well-made and maintained exterior decking and siding made from
strong and durable Ipe wood can last up to 50 years. Ipe
is also commonly used in the creation of stairs or stair handrails.
While the interior use of Ipe can have different methods of finish, if used
it usually gets air-dried.
Even though it is expensive and hard to work with, Ipe is today very
popular for various types of woodworking projects. Here are only some of
the common use case scenarios for Ipe wood:
Indoor and outdoor furniture
General woodworking use
General medical use claims
Tea production from Ipe’s bark
Medical drug production from its main active ingredients inside wood
structure (lapachol, quercetin, and other flavonoids)
Taheebo Ipe bark is used for treating a number of diseases.
Handroanthus genus consists of more than 30 accepted wood types, of which
Ipe wood is one of the most popular.
- Commonly known as Ipe wood or Brazilian walnut or Brazilwood. It
naturally grows in Mexico to northern Argentina.
- Known as golden trumpet tree. It grows to up to 25 feet tall, and with
deep yellow flowers and rusty-red hairs of buds and leaves. It grows in
Florida and Central America.
- Known as yellow trumpet tree. It grows up to 20 feet tall, and its
defining feature is small bright-yellow and trumpet-shaped flowers.
It is important to mention that today the term “Ipe lumber” does not
guarantees that the wood itself will indeed be from an authentic Ipe tree.
This now generic term can be used also for trees from cumaru (Dipterix
odorata) and jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) species.
Benefits and Problems
Ipe wood is known to be very dependable and durable.
Visually it has a very pleasing look, with colors ranging from reddish
brown to sometimes a bit brighter hues with darker or lighter stripping. It
is rated as one of the best types of wood that is naturally resistant to
fires, with same “Class A” rating that steel and concrete get. It ages very
gracefully, with insects, rot and UV damage not appearing at all during
first 20 to 30 years of outdoor use.
Very long lasting
Graceful in aging
Insect and rot resistant
Naturally fire resistant
Dense (it does not float in water)
- Requires more elaborate woodworking measures, pre-drilling and use of
hidden installation of hardware